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San Francisco Square Reopens With New Look

July 21, 2002|Jane Engle

Union Square, the heart of San Francisco's tony downtown shopping district, will reopen this week after 18 months and a $25-million redesign, its first since the 1940s.

Little that is familiar remains. A notable exception is the striking Dewey Monument, a 90-foot-tall Corinthian granite column, crowned with a bronze goddess of Victory, that dates to 1903.

Visitors will find a new, larger stage area, moved from the Powell Street to the Post Street side, and new landscaping that has shifted green space to the perimeter. Overall, there's about 20% less lawn area, said Linda Mjellem, executive director for the Union Square Assn. Four palms have been planted at each corner of the 2.6-acre square, and gardens in the center have been replaced with 60 flowerpots around the square.

The square is now handicapped-accessible from three corners (formerly there were stairs at three of the four corners), and its underground parking garage has an elevator that lets users exit onto the square instead of across the street.

The renovation is not complete. Still to come in the fall are four light sculptures by R.M. Fischer, a visitor information center and half-price theater ticket booth (the ticket booth is now in a temporary facility); and a cafe next year.

The purpose of the redesign was to make the square "more accessible and more inviting," Mjellem said. She described the old square as "intimidating," partly because of hedges that sheltered the homeless and made it hard to see inside the park. The redesign has been criticized, most recently in a letter to the San Francisco Chronicle, as sterile and skimping on greenery. Visitors can make their own evaluation starting Thursday, when the square reopens with four days of concerts and other free events. (415) 391-2000, www.sfvisitor.org.

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